It was welcome news this week for bars and restaurants that they'll be able to re-open at alert level 2.

But when that happens, don't expect your local to look, or even feel the same as it did before Covid-19.

"One of the best things about hospitality is the atmosphere and people around it," said Jimmy Wheeler, of the Pāpāmoa Tavern and The Island.

"When you're just serving people outside there's no atmosphere. Even separating people and people not being able to move around and mingle like they usually do will be a weird environment to be part of."

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Bobby Sandhu, owner of the Pap House, said things won't be the same when they reopen.

"We've got to make sure we follow all the procedures and if I think it's getting out of hand I might have to close again because we can't take the risk. We've got to make sure we wipe every single table, door handles, and maybe only one person is allowed to go to the toilet."

At Level 2, all customers must be seated, separated and served by a single person.

"We upped the ante when we came into level 2 the first time, when we went up the levels," said Jesse Fairbairn of Brooklyn Patio on The Strand. "So we've worked on the initial ideas and procedures around that, but there's going to have to be more implemented and more full-time procedures involved. We'll maximise the building itself to have 100 people as far apart as possible. The further apart, the safer they'll feel."

Some bars are seeking further clarity around the level 2 rules.

"In one site we run three different entities, three different bars," said Wheeler. "So is it 100 people per bar or 100 people per venue?"

"It will be a bit of a work in progress as we go, because this is really different with one server. Here, the bar side, people are used to ordering at the bar for our whole site. The table service is something that will be a big change for us."

Many bars are still working through how to manage demand and avoid groups of people gathering.

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"We'll have to do some form of door policy where we even look at things like having a doorman or we can do an app-based thing. But some of the local older clientele that we do have might not be able to work that type of app so we might have to figure something out along the way," said Fairbairn.

And although demand for pubs to reopen is "brewing", Wheeler says there won't be any opening night parties.

"We've had a lot of people ask us 'hey when you hit level 2 are you guys going to have a big party?' We've had to go back and say 'well no'. It's not going to be a big party like we usually throw. It'll probably be bookings - you've got a two-hour slot or whatever it is.
While people are excited, when they get there it will feel strange to them as well."

Wheeler is reticent about how much he's willing to embrace level 2.

"There's no point opening up a hospitality business if the customer comes in and they're like 'this feels really weird and I'm not enjoying the atmosphere'. I'd rather just not open.

"I don't want someone to come here for the first time and get an experience which is sub par."

And despite having their doors closed for the past six weeks, the relationship between pub owners and locals is as strong as ever.

"They've been really supportive in the past month and a half, especially the past week," said Sandhu. "The locals showed us so much love, which shows us a signal that they're going to listen to us for level 2 as well. The locals are my family."

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